Suspects in alleged plot to destabilise Jordan set to face trial

Charges for ex-finance minister and minor ruling family member include inciting sedition

 Bassem Awadallah: holds dual Jordanian-Saudi citizenship and served as economic adviser to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of his country. File photograph: Joseph Barrak/AFP

Bassem Awadallah: holds dual Jordanian-Saudi citizenship and served as economic adviser to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of his country. File photograph: Joseph Barrak/AFP

 

The two main figures in the alleged plot to destabilise Jordan in collaboration with unnamed “foreign entities” are set to go on trial in Amman in a military court this week.

Bassem Awadallah, former royal court chief and ex-finance minister, and Sherif Hassan bin Zeid, a minor member of the ruling family, were arrested in early April and charged with conspiring with King Abdullah’s half-brother Hamzah to “undermine the regime” and the kingdom’s security, and incite sedition.

Under house arrest since the plot was exposed, the prince escaped prosecution by pledging loyalty to the king and his son, Crown Prince Hussein. For Prince Hamzah, who had been originally appointed crown prince to succeed King Abdullah, this amounted to defeat of his ambition to be monarch. Another 16 people initially detained were released without charge.

‘Far-fetched nonsense’

Mr Awadallah and Sherif Hassan had close ties to Saudi Arabia which, once the plot was uncovered, dispatched its foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan to express the kingdom’s “complete solidarity with Jordan’s King Abdullah and his government” and deny Saudi involvement in the conspiracy as “far-fetched nonsense”.

Mr Awadallah, who holds dual Jordanian-Saudi citizenship, had served as economic adviser to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of his country.

The Washington Post’s investigative reporter David Ignatius published on June 11th a detailed expose of Saudi involvement, which began during the Trump administration’s drive to secure Arab acceptance of the “deal of the century” to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The aim, wrote Ignatius, was not to overthrow but to weaken Jordan’s King Abdullah who refused to “make concessions on the status of Jerusalem and other issues affecting the Palestinians”.

‘Open criticism’

The charge sheet for the sedition case, obtained by Riyadh-based daily Arab News provides evidence that Prince Hamzah had formed a “solid connection” with the two accused. They met regularly at the home of Mr Awadallah who was, reportedly, urging the prince to pursue meetings with disaffected leaders of tribes that have been the bedrock of the Jordanian Hashemite regime for a century.

The indictment accuses Prince Hamzah of engaging in “open criticism” of national institutions and complaining of mismanagement, activities which are considered crimes of lese majeste in Jordan. The deaths in March due to a lack of oxygen of seven Covid patients at a hospital in Salt, a town northwest of Amman, was seen as an opportunity to trigger mass protests.

The prince was repeatedly told by Sherif Hassan he should assert leadership over rallies planned for March 24th by the Jordanian branch of the pan-Arab Hirak movement, which emerged during the 2011 Arab Spring.

Once the plot was revealed, Jordan’s traditional western allies rallied round the king. He is due in Washington this month to meet US president Joe Biden.